Thought for the week - 11 February 2024
Something very beautiful is going on here, and it find its home in the Gospel reading today, of the Transfiguration. Like so much in our shared ecclesial life, it is not the obvious which moves us, but the oblique – the things that we only see because they are hidden, and we have, as people who seek for life in what looks like death and for blood in what looks like wine, and for fire in the water of a font, a certain ability, honed over two thousand years of the experience of the Christian people, to find these things.
Many holy people seem to find this beauty all around them, and maybe we can be a little jealous of that apparent closeness to the divine, dwelling on the Holy Mountain, but as any of us who have spent any time in a Monastery will know, appearances can be deceptive and monks, I am sorry to say, harbour the same resentments and annoyances that we all do, but have to play them out in a much, much more confined world – maybe that does lead to a greater capacity for good? Many people also seem to live perpetually unaware of beauty and holiness and have little to no control of their resentments and annoyances and maybe people find that as attractive as the opposite, as online comments boxes and local newspaper articles suggest. Most of us live somewhere in-between. The in-between can be a place of hope, where we are held in the promises of Jesus Christ, or a place of despair, where we neither belong nor are strangers. There is the despair of metaphorical darkness where we are plunged into uncertainty which can result in enlightenment or perpetual fear, but there is also the despair that is just out of our field of vision, threatening homelessness, breakup, addiction, or serious illness – all of which can, terrifyingly, just happen to us.
But something beautiful is going on here. Previously in the Scriptures, ‘A leper came to Jesus and pleaded on his knees: “If you want to” he said, “you can cure me.” The leper has been living in that place in-between which is so thoroughly defenestrated today in the Transfiguration, where there is either HERE or THERE or the Kingdom here with us. A leper cannot return to his home. Once you contracted leprosy, you were not allowed to return to your home but had to live in a place in between. People knew where you were, and food would be left for you, but you could not go near anyone else and of course you could never touch anyone else. Yet, this man has not lost his hope, because he believed that Jesus can cure him and he has courage still that he could live a full life again. In response to our call to Jesus to cure us, which may well at this time of year as we approach Lent be a call to cure us of our sins and to find mercy and rightness with Him again. In response to the call of any member of His body, He reaches out and touches us – and through our sins being forgiven He transfigures us.
‘Reaching out’ is a phrase so commonly hear, but not ‘reaching out and touching’, for we live in a society where touching is, probably quite rightly, not encouraged. I don’t mean shaking hands, or among those familiar with each other, but if you were hugged by the cashier at Tesco you’d be rightly shocked and offering of charity does not give the donor any rights over the recipient, so why am I spending so much time looking at this physical action between Jesus and the leper before we look at the Transfiguration?
There is a very good reason. Jesus touches the leper. Jesus touches the leper – this means that in reaching out and touching, he knows that he will no longer be able to return to his home, to his place in the community, for He has touched a leper and we are told that: ‘Jesus could no longer go openly into any town but had to stay outside in places where nobody lived.’ This self-imposed exile will be completed on the cross, his bodily wounds the reminders of the wounds of the leper and a reminder of our own lack of humanity, our failure to respond to the cries of those who suffer. But it is given a home here as well, on the Mount of the Transfiguration, when the Man who touched the leper and becomes an outcast is recognised by the Old Covenant and by the Father. Most of us live somewhere in between the leper and this mountain, although we long to reach out, instead we hover, aware of how much we might lose in this life and not quite sure about how much we will gain in the next.
Just like Peter, we try and find a via media, a way to keep what we have and what we yearn for - a tent to contain Jesus, of our own making. But this is amusingly futile! Yet something beautiful is happening here because in the final twist of the story, we discover that we are not watching the transfiguration, we have a part to play in it, and our part is to become a witness to Jesus, in whose body we live, but we become Jesus by first of all being the Leper, then by being Peter, then by walking with Christ with Mary and John to the Cross, then by our baptism in water and fire and coming back to the faith of the leper and saying ‘you can save me’, and by His touch we are healed, and by our becoming part of His body, we are also become healers of others, through His power. And then we need not be scared of illness or death anymore, because something beautiful is happening here, and it is truly good, Lord, to be here.